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The sentimental comedy This Could Be the Night (1957) has something of the Runyonesque feel of Guys and Dolls, minus the front-and-center musical numbers. There are production numbers here, but they function more as backdrops to the action. Jean Simmons, who starred as the mission girl in the movie version of Guys and Dolls (1955) just two years earlier, plays a similar role here as a virtuous grade-school teacher freshly arrived in New York City from Smith College. She takes a part-time secretarial job at a nightclub owned by ex-bootlegger Paul Douglas and ladies-man Anthony Franciosa. The humor comes from Simmons being a fish out of water - innocent and trusting in this gangster-ish world.
The picture was received very enthusiastically by the trade papers, with The Hollywood Reporter calling its screenplay "charming and witty" and Variety praising Simmons as "terrific," Robert Wise's direction as "masterly," and the film itself as one "that exhibitors can push with a money-back recommendation." Variety also lauded newcomer Anthony Franciosa: "There is the assurance of a promising film career for Franciosa, so well does he handle his rakish role. He will make a lasting impression on femme viewers."
Franciosa was having a big year. In addition to making his film debut here, he would star in three more major pictures in 1957, including Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd as well as A Hatful of Rain, in which he repeated his Broadway success and received an Oscar® nomination for Best Actor. (He lost to Alec Guinness in The Bridge on the River Kwai.) He also, in 1957, married Shelley Winters.
Providing the top-notch music in This Could Be the Night is Ray Anthony and His Orchestra. The tight, crowd-pleasing band had recently also appeared in The Girl Can't Help It (1956) and Daddy Long Legs (1955) and were at the peak of their popularity. Anthony, a trumpeter, was a former member of the Glenn Miller and Jimmy Dorsey bands, and had formed his own group after World War II. Interviewed for this TCM article in 2008, the still-very-active Anthony recalled the movie as his personal favorite. "I was really surprised and happy when I saw the finished product," he said, "because while I was making it, it felt like nothing was happening. When you sit around for ten weeks and do very little, you wonder what kind of movie it's going to be. But Bob Wise was so subtle and quietly efficient. He did a fantastic job. I was so impressed with how the picture turned out."
Anthony had kind words for the co-stars, too, especially Anthony Franciosa, who became a friend, and Jean Simmons. Years later, he found himself playing a doubles tennis match with Simmons at the home of songwriter Harry Warren. Anthony still plays tennis avidly and still records with his band - when not hanging out with close friend Hugh Hefner, that is!
Julie Wilson sings most of the songs in This Could Be the Night, including "I Got it Bad," I'm Gonna Live Till I Die," and "Taking a Chance on Love." Anthony's band backs these songs and also plays "When the Saints Go Marching in", "Trumpet Boogie," and "Now, Baby, Now," among others.
Robert Wise, a former film editor (Citizen Kane, 1941) who became an extremely versatile director, made this film as his follow-up to the powerful biopic Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), which made Paul Newman a star. He would direct Jean Simmons (and Paul Newman) again immediately afterwards, in Until They Sail (1957).
Producer: Joe Pasternak
Director: Robert Wise
Screenplay: Isobel Lennart; Cornelia Baird Gross (short stories)
Cinematography: Russell Harlan
Art Direction: Paul Groesse, William A. Horning
Film Editing: George Boemler
Cast: Jean Simmons (Anne Leeds), Paul Douglas (Rocco), Anthony Franciosa (Tony Armotti), Julie Wilson (Ivy Corlane), Neile Adams (Patsy St. Clair), Joan Blondell (Crystal St. Clair), J. Carrol Naish (Leon), Rafael Campos (Hussein Mohammed).
BW-104m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold